You have come to the Web’s most complete and comprehensive site for answers to all of your questions related to recovering money in your Florida car accident legal case.
Q. Do I have a case?
A. If you were injured and suffered significant damages in a Florida car accident caused by someone else’s negligence or deliberate wrongdoing, you probably have a case, assuming you can prove the other party’s fault and your damages.
This can be a detailed and complex process, involving difficult negotiations with an insurance company that will want to pay little or nothing, and in a few cases where the insurer is especially recalcitrant, a jury trial. Meet with a Florida personal injury lawyer to discuss the circumstances surrounding your accident and the damages you’ve suffered to learn if you have a viable case to recover money. Call the law offices of personal injury attorney Stephen Maltezos to schedule a free case review. Steve has offices conveniently located in Tampa and St. Pete, or if your injuries prevent you from making an office visit, he will come to you anywhere in Pinellas or Hillsborough Counties or the surrounding area. He will can review the facts of your case and determine if you have a viable claim. You need to be able to prove that the other party was negligent and caused the accident, and that you suffered damages as a result.
Q. What if I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt? Do I still have a case?
A. Florida law requires use of a seatbelt. Nevertheless, you can still make a claim if you weren’t wearing one. But Florida is a comparative negligence state, which means that you could be found partly to blame for your injuries. Your recovery award could be reduced by the percentage of blame attributed to you because of your failure to wear a seatbelt.
Q. What is the meaning of “negligence” and how do I prove it?
A. Negligence, as a legal concept, means that some person, business, or other entity failed to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming another person. In an auto accident case, the negligent party is often another driver, but could also be a road construction company, government department responsible for highway design and maintenance, or manufacturer of a defective vehicle or one of its parts.
To meet the legal burden required for you to recover money in your Florida car accident case, you will need to prove these factors:
Proving that the individual or other party who caused your car accident injuries was negligent is something best handled by a Florida auto accident lawyer.
Q. Do I really need an attorney to handle my car accident case? The insurance adjuster says I can negotiate a settlement myself and not have to pay legal fees.
A. You have the right to negotiate your own settlement without a lawyer; the insurance hopes that you can be persuaded to do just that. The insurance company makes their money by taking in more in premiums than they pay out—a lot more! They know that they can nearly always get away with paying less if the injured party can be talked into negotiating without the benefit of legal counsel. Research shows that overall, those who are represented by a good lawyer typically walk away with much more money in their pockets than those who try to do it without counsel. And when it comes to legal fees, you only pay fees and expenses if and when your attorney wins money for you. You risk nothing, but you potentially have a great deal to gain.
The insurance company has every reason to want you to negotiate a settlement on your own, because when you do, they will probably get away with paying a lot less. You probably have no idea just how much your case is worth. But a personal injury attorney does.
Naturally you want fair compensation for all of your present and future financial damages, as well as compensation for your pain, suffering, and damaged quality of life. A Florida personal injury attorney understands the legal concepts involved and is able to determine a fair value that includes all of your damages.
Q. Do I need to find a lawyer now, or can I wait a while?
A. Florida has laws called “statutes of limitations” that restrict the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit for your car accident injury. It takes time to put together the proof that will be needed to back your claim, so it is important to get started as soon after the accident as possible. And it is more effective to get the proof while the evidence is still fresh and witnesses haven’t forgotten what they observed. Evidence has a way of drying up over time, and witnesses may forget or move away.
Q. Is it okay to talk to an insurance adjuster about my accident?
A. When an insurance adjuster calls ̶ and you should expect one to ̶ don’t engage in any discussion of your accident or injuries. Politely inform the adjuster that you have engaged an attorney, and provide your attorney’s contact information. The adjuster is paid to save the insurance company money by minimizing their payout. Adjusters are well trained to employ a variety of tactics to achieve this end. Most insurance adjusters are very personable and know how to earn your trust; but don’t be fooled. The adjuster is not on your side. Don’t allow the adjuster to record a statement from you, and don’t sign anything unless your attorney has instructed you to do so.
Q. How do I deal with my own insurance company following an accident?
A. You will need to report the accident to your insurance carrier and cooperate as outlined in your policy. You will need to give only the basic facts of the accident. You should avoid discussions of blame or fault. That’s an area for your attorney to handle. Your attorney will also deal with your insurer if any problem or questions should arise concerning such things as PIP (no-fault benefits) or your uninsured motorist (UIM) coverage. Any insurance company, whether your own or that of the defendant, will usually look for any reason to deny coverage, so limit your involvement to the basic reporting requirement.
Q. How do my medical bills get paid following a Florida auto accident?
A. Florida is a no-fault state, meaning your PIP (personal injury protection) insurance will cover 80 percent of your medical bills up to $10,000. In many cases, this will not be sufficient to cover all of your medical needs, and does not compensate you for your pain and suffering. You will need to make a legal claim for compensation for those damages from the party responsible for causing the accident. You should hire a Florida personal injury attorney who will work with you to prove the other driver liable for your injuries, calling upon various experts to support your case when necessary. Your lawyer should be experienced at conducting complex negotiations and be willing and able to take your case to a jury if the insurance company does not offer a fair settlement outside of court.
Q. Will I be compensated for my lost earnings during the time I lost from work?
A. Yes, if you receive hourly wages or if you are a salaried employee and can prove your lost earnings by producing payroll records. No-fault pays 80 percent of your lost earnings; but your no-fault claim is limited to a total of $10,000 for medical expenses and lost earnings. Anything beyond that limit must be obtained from the party who caused your accident. If you are self-employed, however, your lost earnings may be harder to prove. Hopefully, you have a good accountant and excellent records, in which case your lawyer will be able to produce proof of your lost earnings and recover compensation for you. This is a case when having the right attorney is especially beneficial.
Q. What happens if the driver fled the scene of the accident or was not carrying the required insurance?
A. In Florida, about 30 percent of drivers are uninsured, and many mothers carry only minimal coverage. If the at-fault driver can’t be identified (in a hit-and-run), or is either uninsured or underinsured, and you are have purchased optional Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage, you will file your claim against your own insurance company. You may not be sure whether or not you have the optional coverage. Your attorney will find out. Even if your insurer denies that you have UIM coverage, if they cannot produce a document signed by you declining it, they may have to pay up.
Q. What if I don’t have my own no-fault coverage? How do I pay my medical bills until my case settles?
A. If you live in a household with a close relative who carries no-fault insurance, it may cover you. If not, either your private or public health insurance should pay your medical bills. They will, however, have the right to recover everything they pay out when your case settles.
If you have no health insurance at all, many doctors will treat you without being paid, but will put a lien on your recovery, allowing them to be paid from the compensation award you receive at the resolution of your case.
Because Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurers negotiate reduced rates with care providers, you’ll owe less than if you must pay off a lien at the doctor’s regular charges, so going with your health insurance provider is usually preferable, if you have the option. Discuss it with your attorney.
Once your case has been settled, you will have to pay any medical bills you incur in the future. Your lawyer will work to negotiate an award that will include enough money to cover projected medical expenses.
Q. Do I need to see a doctor right away?
A. Yes. When you’ve been in an accident, get yourself checked out right away. Visit a hospital emergency room, see your own doctor, or go to an urgent care clinic. Tell the doctor who examines you that you’ve been in a car accident. Describe every injury, even small ones that may seem to be minor. Some injuries are not obvious right away, but over the hours, days, or weeks after the accident, they will begin to cause problems. Some examples are internal bleeding, certain closed head injuries, and ruptured discs. Complex regional pain syndrome, which can be extremely debilitating, can set in weeks after an injury that at first seems insignificant. In Florida, if you don’t see a physician within 72 hours of the accident, you will not be able to receive your no-fault benefits. And if you don’t see a doctor promptly, the insurance company for the at-fault party will argue that if you were really injured, you would have sought medical attention soon after the accident. Don’t risk losing your benefits or your right to compensation by putting off medical care.
Q. Will my lawyer refer me to a doctor?
A. Some lawyers do this routinely, but juries may look askance at close ties between doctors and personal injury attorneys. This is especially true if virtually every client of a given lawyer is referred to the same doctor, or vice versa, because there have been cases of unethical collusion to exaggerate claims. It is best to use your own doctor for most treatment. If you are in need of a particular type of medical specialist and have not been able to get a referral from your personal physician, your lawyer may provide you with some names of appropriate specialists from which to choose.
Q. Can I go to a chiropractor?
A. Not at first. You must be seen by a medical doctor or certified nurse practitioner within 72 hours of the accident. The doctor or nurse practitioner must refer you to a chiropractor, or Florida no-fault will not pay for it.
Q. How do I get a copy of the police report?
A. You should get the name of the officer who responded to the accident and ask for instructions on obtaining a police report. Or, you can contact the law enforcement agency and get the information. There is usually a small fee charged for the report.
Q. What damages can I recover?
A. You may potentially be able to recover three types of damages: economic damages (medical expenses, lost earnings and future earning potential and benefits, out-of-pocket expenses, and others), damages to your quality of life (pain, suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.); and in a few extreme cases, punitive damages, an extra monetary award aimed at punishing particularly egregious wrongdoing by the defendant.
Q. Who can recover money in a Florida wrongful death action from a fatal car accident?
A. A wrongful death action is brought by a personal representative on behalf of both the estate and certain surviving family members, which may include the spouse, minor children, adult children, parents, and in some cases, other dependent blood or adoptive relatives of the decedent. Florida’s wrongful death statute can be complicated, so don’t attempt a wrongful death claim without a lawyer.
Q. How long do I have to wait for my case to settle?
A. The amount of time it takes to resolve a case varies. It is hard to predict early on how long it will take. Typically, the more severe the injuries, the longer your recovery time, and the longer it takes the case to settle. When large amounts of money are involved, the insurance company will fight the claim vigorously and attempt to draw it out as long as possible.
If your injuries are minor and your medical treatment lasts no more than a few weeks, your case could take only several months to be resolved, while cases involving serious or catastrophic injuries sometimes take years. Duration of treatment, motions required in the litigation, expert witness availability, and court schedules can all affect the amount of time it will take to conclude a Florida car accident case.
Q. Who will handle my case at the Maltezos Law Offices?
Steve Maltezos, your attorney, will be handling your case from beginning to end. While some law firms have paralegals and case managers handling personal injury cases, Steve takes your case very personally, and he takes responsibility for it from the minute you retain him until the day you receive your settlement check. He will keep you informed throughout the process and will return your phone calls and emails himself. His friendly office staff will be there to assist. Personal attention is guaranteed at Maltezos Law.
Q. Will I need to appear in court?
In most cases, no. Stephen Maltezos is frequently able to negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance company without the necessity of a trial. But it is important to know that Steve is, above all, a trial lawyer. If the insurance company is not willing to make a fair and adequate settlement offer, he will be fully prepared to try your case to a jury, if that’s what it takes. He is a highly skilled in the courtroom and knows how to get results.
Q. How will my lawyer be paid?
You will retain your personal injury lawyer on contingency. That means that you will only pay legal fees and expenses if and when you recover money in compensation for your damages. You will never have any up-front costs or out-of-pocket expenses, and you’ll never write a check to your lawyer. Legal expenses are a percentage of your recovery and will come out of the settlement check. If you don’t win, you don’t pay anything at all.
Q. Will I owe taxes on my recovery award?
The only parts of a personal injury recovery that are taxable are the amount allotted to lost earnings and punitive damages, which are awarded by a jury in a very few cases when the defendant exhibited an extremely atrocious disregard for your well-being. The remainder of your award is tax free.
Q. Why should I choose Stephen Maltezos as my Florida personal injury lawyer?
When you meet Steve, you’ll feel the difference between him and other lawyers immediately. He is energetic, passionate, and involved. He cares deeply about each client he takes on, and he treats you exactly as if you were a member of his family. He has a profound commitment to justice for the injured and takes every case very personally. Give yourself the opportunity to meet one of Tampa Bay’s most aggressive personal injury lawyers—one who never gives up and never gives in. Call Maltezos Law today for a free consultation and learn how you can get the money you need to when a Florida car accident has turned your life upside down. Time to file your claim is limited by law, so make that call now.